AKAA (aka Known As Africa) is the first, and only, fair of contemporary art and design focused on Africa. In Paris, at the Carreau du Temple, this event, welcoming some forty galleries from eighteen countries for its third edition, has become a major rendezvous of art and design.
A space of meetings and exchanges, which, from painting to sculpture, through design and performance presents a diversity of talents rarely seen in major international fairs of contemporary art.
Resonances, influences, dialogues; the creativity of artists, confirmed or emerging, highlights the plurality of cultural, commercial or ideological links that connect Africa to other regions of the world. Meeting with Victoria Mann, founder of AKAA.
By Fanny Revault
What is your background?
Basically, I am an art historian. I started my career in the United States where I studied under the wing of a professor of history of African art who passed on to me his passion. I returned to France in 2010 where I did a master’s degree at the Louvre School. A two-year work followed on a collection of paintings from Madagascar produced in the 20s. At the end of my studies, it seemed to me that a card was missing in my game, that of the art market. So I worked with the Pace Gallery in London for a year. It was by exercising at home and studying the fairs that the idea of AKAA emerged.
Can you come back to the genesis of AKAA?
I wanted to mount a project that promotes artists from contemporary scenes in Africa. My first and natural idea was to open a gallery in Paris. Nevertheless, it is by working with the gallery Pace, including this system of fairs, that I realized that it was not another gallery that had to be created in Paris, but a platform that did not exist. not. A platform that would have a more important and immediate impact on a wider community at a time T of the African cultural landscape, and above all, a platform that would unite around this continent to highlight the artists of these contemporary scenes, while being careful not to stigmatize artists with this “Africa” label.
What is AKAA’s ambition?
Since the beginning, our message has been to present artists related, in one way or another, to Africa. The geographical criterion does not really matter. Rather, it is about inviting artists and art professionals who accompany them to participate in the fair when they have a claimed link with Africa, and because they have a story to tell about this continent.
What is the particularity of this third edition?
This edition allowed us to highlight this first ambition to recompose a map of contemporary art. Rather than putting the United States and Europe in the center, as usual, we wanted to place Africa and observe all the axes, all the eyes crossed, all the bridges built between artists around the world. .
How is AKAA positioned in the contemporary art market?
Regarding the fair, it is an evolving African contemporary art market, still fragile but stabilizing over the years. We are just one of the components of this market working with all the other players in this ecosystem. In addition, an evolving market evokes the possibility of a very interesting balance between established artists and emerging artists.
AKAA, a desire to present African creation in its plurality?
Indeed, it is very important to make visible the plurality, the diversity and the richness of these artists having the talent and the imagination to work all types of mediums, influences, subjects and tones in their work. This realization at AKAA seems to us to be essential. Personally, I do not like this partitioning between the arts; every artist, whatever his field, draws his inspiration from the different artistic fields.
African art and African contemporary art. Which relations?
Indeed, the classical arts of Africa represent a very important wealth within the heritage of many countries on this continent, but one can exist with the other without necessarily depending on it. Often, the border between classical and contemporary art in Africa is very fixed because we do not want to put them in the same basket. There is also the imprint of a heavy and controversial colonial past. Nevertheless, if we try to distance ourselves from these discourses and really talk about artists, contemporaries, influences; it turns out that tradition and culture are a primary influence for a large number of artists.
What are the favorites of this third edition?
The first is about Susana Pilard who realized our monumental installation. It is very important for me because it represents very precisely this crossroads of cultures, identities, views crossed between Africa and other regions of the world.
The second is perhaps, on historical and contemporary issues, the stand of Didier Claes and the exhibition of Kendell Geers, a South African artist who draws on traditional and historical Congolese influences. His commitment to the fair fascinated me. The stand he imagined has also made the “A” of many posts Instagram, press etc…
I would also like to mention my personal favorite, the Moroccan artist Yassine Balbzioui. His painting takes us into a somewhat crazy world of reveries, slightly disturbing but very intriguing. We would like to enter but we are not sure. The fair allowed me to discover his watercolors before which I remained speechless, bringing me back into a world of dreams and childhood.
I will end by addressing this time a round table on the subject of the representation of bodies in the Muslim world of art. Indeed, AKAA is also a cultural program. The testimonials from this round table were really touching, constituting moments of intense sharing, as much for our stakeholders as for the public. We witnessed a real moment of tension that soothed the minds of all present by addressing unobvious topics. This is important for me because this moment has illustrated this sincere connection that can be created between our audience and its actors, in the broad sense of these contemporary scenes.